Solo piano albums are things to be approached with fear, caution, fevered brow, and wild hope. The piano, after all, is one of the most staccato and inflexible of all instruments available. Spawned from the even more hard-edged harpsichord, it presents an odd midground between the percussive and the chordophonic, able to transcend itself only through a very discerning mind and intimately knowledgeable hands. We've had more than our share of Steve Halperns, George Winstons, Liz Stories, and etc. Best of luck with their enterprises, and if they do well, excellent, more power to 'em, but my dollars won't be among the inflow. I want more challenging material, more daredevil and/or refined thinking, something I can sink not just my fangs into but molars as well, taste buds too, then roll up my sleeves and wrestle with the presentation. Billy Lester's Storytime is just such a beast and, in that, is not going to be the source of fascination for everybody that it is for me and will be for connoisseurs.
Lester favors narrative, musical novel-making, story-telling (hence the CD title), and puts a rather impressive degree of muscle into doing so. Though the initial Prologue commences true to its namesake, gently, expositionally, matters get rapidly meaty and unhedging. Not one to prance around the subject matter, Lester attacks his instrument with gusto and confidence. His influences are easily discerned because he tributizes two of them explicitly in Remembering Bud Powell and Sal Mosca, but I'm telling you here and now that you'll also detect Keith Jarrett and even Sun Ra, the former in improv and profundity, the latter in echoes of the mutated bayou traditionalism Ra exhibited when he wasn't noiseuring in that spectacularly individual vocabulary of his. There's also some of Joplin in a pissed-off mood and then a slice of boogie woogie that had way too many amphetamines mixed with barbiturates, indecisive as to whether it wants to get up and shake it or just lay there and dream.
However, in Lullaby, which obviously had a swaddling beatnik baby in mind, Lester employs an interestingly staccato set of ascending repeating chords that wouldn't be strangers to unusual composers like Robert Fripp or Christian Vander. In that, I would also credit a masterful Paul Bley presence—not to mention ex-wife Carla—in this guy's out-of-the-box manners. Lightning Man gets even more out of hand, and the listener will either be fascinated or turn to Barry Manilow for protection. This is dangerous stuff, y'all. In terms of imagery, though, there's definitely a literate straddling of boundaries between Herman Melville, Raymond Chandler, and Kurt Vonnegut, even some Norman Mailer. Challenging music but there's not a wasted second in any of it. You'll come to the far end of the 52 minutes feeling like you just went ten rounds with the champ, bruised and panting…but wondering when you can get a rematch.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2013, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.
Website design by David N. Pyles